Sochi Olympics downhill course gets high marks

Didier Cuche called it ”magnificent.” Bode Miller was highly

critical. Aksel Lund Svindal said upon first glance that the course

for the 2014 Sochi Olympics was ”what downhill is all about.”

So while there were some mixed feelings, racers mainly gave high

marks to the Rosa Khutor slope after the opening World Cup training

session was held under clear sunshine and on good, hard snow

conditions.

”It’s a magnificent course,” said Cuche, the four-time winner

of the World Cup downhill title, who finished second to Austria’s

Hannes Reichelt on Wednesday. ”Perhaps a little bit too turning,

it could be adapted a little bit to change that. The first 40

seconds or so it resembles more a super-G than a downhill, albeit a

very fast super-G.

”It’s not like any other run on the circuit,” added Cuche, who

has announced he will retire after this season. ”It’s a really

interesting run. They have managed to shape the course around the

mountain in a really nice way.”

For Miller, however, the constant turns on the upper section are

too much like super-G.

”I don’t really believe it embodies anything that a true World

Cup downhill should be,” said the 34-year-old American, who will

be competing in his fifth Olympics if he continues through to

2014.

Two more training sessions are scheduled for Thursday and Friday

before a World Cup downhill on Saturday and a super-combined race

on Sunday – the first major test events for the Sochi Games.

At 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles), the course is one of the longer

layouts that skiers have faced, although the constant turns mean

little time in the tuck position and therefore it’s not one of the

most physically demanding tests.

”If they ran that as the Olympic super-G it would be an epic

super-G, because it’s not that tiring, even for the amount of time

that you’re on the course,” said Miller, who cruised down in 32nd

place. ”It’s just cranking turns the whole way on that good, hard

snow.”

Miller lamented the lack of gliding sections, where he usually

excels.

”There’s not one place where you’re not going hard edge-to-edge

except for this road just before this second-to-last jump into the

finish,” he said. ”Because you’re so tall and you’re legs are

long, you’re not tucking at all.”

The upper half of the course contains a series of technical,

narrow and steep turns before easing out toward the end, although

there are large jumps all the way down, including one into the

finish.

”It’s a tough course,” said Svindal, the two-time overall

World Cup winner from Norway. ”I think a lot of guys were

surprised at inspection this morning.

”It’s kind of what downhill is all about – the mountain kind of

sets the pace,” Svindal added. ”If this was gliding from the top

then we would kill ourselves after 20 seconds, so I’m glad they put

some turns in there.”

However, Svindal thought organizers injected too much water to

make the upper portion of the course harder.

”It’s a tough course – that’s the bottom line – but the course

preparation really makes a (difference),” said the Norwegian, who

placed 21st. ”I think they overdid it with the water this time.

They’ll probably use less water for the Olympics.”

Svindal’s biggest complaint, though, was about the poorly

organized charter planes that the International Ski Federation

(FIS) used to transport athletes to Russia. He and other skiers

said they were given no food or water for a total of six hours from

the time they began their trip from Zurich on Tuesday.

”If we knew, we would have brought something, but information

was limited,” Svindal said.

The U.S. Ski Team avoided the charter route and flew over from

Europe by private jet, part of a training arrangement with the

Russian ski federation.

”It was cool to be able to fly here in style,” said giant

slalom world champion Ted Ligety.

Construction is everywhere, all the way up to the ski course

finish area, which is located halfway up the mountain and requires

two gondolas and a windy chairlift for fans and media to get

to.

The skiers and the FIS seem pleased so far, though.

”This is the training of the test event, so this is Round 1,

Day 1 – we’re as green as green gets,” said men’s World Cup finish

area director Mike Kertesz. ”I don’t mean to pat our own backs but

with all the work we’ve done so far things are running according to

the way they should, or even better than I’ve seen a brand new

organizer do before.”

For Christof Innerhofer of Italy, who placed fifth, the course

was ideal.

”I like the ice, so I feel at home here,” said Innerhofer, who

won gold, silver and bronze medals at last season’s world

championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

”It’s a good downhill for the Olympic Games,” Innerhofer

added. ”At the Olympic Games we say the best must win and here

will win the best, not just one guy who is only fast on the

flat.”

With the slopes closed to the public and high security, there is

little to distract the skiers.

”I have not seen a lot of Russian girls,” Innerhofer said.

”So that was a little bit sad, but (besides that) all the

organization was OK.”